Stellaris: Federations Review

By Alexander Williams 17 Mar 2020 1

Stellaris: Federations Review

Released 17 Mar 2020

Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available from:

Stellaris' new Federations expansion is a beast. As updates go, it adds a vast amount of content to the game that intimately changes the flow of play. Not since the change from tile-based population has there been a shakeup the significant. Not only has the beginning of the game changed, from the moment that you create your species with one of the 18 Origins, the way things unfold after the early game go in a completely different direction once the Galactic Community comes into being.

This is going to be one of the critical expansions for Stellaris going forward.

How do we feel about it? First, let’s look inside the box.

DLC vs Free For You And Me

A lot of the content being released for Federations will be in the Verne patch release for free. There is simply too much going on structurally around diplomacy for that not to be the case.

stellaris federations galaxy map

Paradox has a history of putting out free patches which significantly change the nature of the game. Some people consider this a strike against them but I’ve always felt that it represents a certain boldness when it comes to their communities. They have enough trust in their product and in their development to say, “yes, this is better and we think everyone should have the opportunity to play a better game.”

Verne is one of those patches. There has been some question when it comes to trying to pick apart what is going to be free in the patch and what you’re actually paying for if you pick up Federations. For most players, this is a really significant question. Let’s try to nail some of that Jell-O to a tree.

As of the time of this writing, a significant chunk of Federations-specific content is directly connected with Origins (which we’ll discuss more of shortly):

  • Remnants (Relic World start)
  • Shattered Ring (starting on a shattered Ring World; very popular with mods)
  • Void Dwellers (you live in three Habitats above your destroyed homeworld and prefer to live in space)
  • On the Shoulder of Giants (lots of archaeological sites in your starting area)
  • Common Ground (starting as the leader of a Galactic Union federation)
  • Hegemon (starting as the leader of a Hegemonic federation)
  • Doomsday (ticking time bomb)

The Mega Shipyard and the Juggernaut are also Federations only; not surprising for mega-construct-scale goodies. A lot of players are asking the question, “But how about that big performance boost we were promised?”

stellaris federations origins

It’s in there. While it was difficult to test exhaustively in the limited time we had for review, responsiveness on a moment to moment basis even as larger fleets and more activity took the field remained very stable. The dev diaries talk about making fewer individual small checks, each of which has a significant overhead, and moving them into larger, less granular decision points. Or, more simply, they make fewer but more important decisions in the code. That kind of design will have a greater affect as the game rolls on and more elements need to be juggled.

When asked about what’s in the DLC versus the patch on Twitter, Paradox responded with a link to their Feature Breakdown video:

Hiding in Plain Sight

Without going into too much detail (because we can save that for another article) what are you getting when you buy Federations?

I mentioned Origins earlier. When you create your species, you pick an Origin. This establishes how you came into being, whether it was as a result of being uplifted by an ancient race, living solely in deep space because your planet somehow was destroyed, or just emerging from the hurly-burly of every day civilization to finally claim your place in space. Several Civics which used to define such things have been folded into Origins, freeing up a slot to differentiate your species from others even more.

You’re finally space bound! You’ll find of the biggest change to the game starting to kick in – diplomacy. You won’t be able to set other empires as your Rival unless they have a sufficiently negative opinion of you and often that will require sending an Envoy, a new kind of leader that you only have to assign to an organization to promote your interests, whether that be to schmooze and improve the situation or deliberately antagonize.

stellaris federations diplomacy

Most of the diplomatic interactions that you’re used to (research agreements, declarations of war, migration treaties, etc.) require a certain level of relation and managing them is the domain of Envoys.

Once enough empires have been discovered, the Galactic Community comes into being. You can think of this like the Space UN, where the various spacefaring races come together and try to create governing relationships which may or may not actually be enforceable.

Eventually you will be part of a federation, which now, in several flavors from the Starfleet-like Galactic Union to the military junta of the Hegemony. Each federation has a set of laws which govern them, controlling not only how many ships the Federation itself controls but how leadership passes (if it does) and how votes are tallied.

Throw in a couple of really gigantic new ships to terrify your neighbors with just for spice and Federations puts a lot of red meat on your plate.

stellaris federations galactic community


If you don’t come away from reading this review believing that Stellaris has made a big step forward in terms of creating more reasons to be engaged in moment to moment play, more reasons to care about what other empires in space think not only about you but about each other, more things to pull the levers on, push the buttons for, and generally have an even broader feel of running an interstellar civilization – I’ve failed. Those things are what Paradox have focused on in a game that really needed diplomacy to be a significant part of the experience.

Things no longer feel so arbitrary or quite so RNG-driven. You can see the numbers that affect the diplomatic decisions that AI empires are executing and you can see how you can intervene and change those courses of action in ways you couldn’t before. Sometimes things will just happen because they are out of your control but when they do you will feel more aware that they were simply out of your control and now you have to compensate.

stellaris federations

The lightened restrictions on what kind of Empire can engage in diplomacy with actual positive outcome has a lot more impact than you might think. Some positions are harder to start from than others; people will significantly distrust you if you are a Criminal Syndicate even if you are a powerful member of the galactic community, but you can interact. This opens the door to even more play options and that’s always good.

If I had to summarize the systems which are present in Federations and what they let you do, I would say they go out of their way to let you communicate your intent on play style and results to the game and in turn let the game respond to your expressed intent. Set your Diplomatic Policy to “Supremacist,” and everyone knows that you are out for yourself up front. Set it to “Economic” and people looking to make a deal will come to you. Set it to “Pacifist,” and you will generate less threat (and provide yourself an excellent opportunity to build up a terrifying fleet to go out and liberate the Hell out of everyone else while they’re not looking). By allowing you to declare intent the game lets you not only get what you want out of the game but lie about it, and that’s amazing.

Federations is one of the best expansions for Stellaris that we’ve seen and the impact is going to be felt for the rest of the life of the game, which being supported by Paradox means many years to come.

Stellaris: Federations Review

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